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I want to replace a ceiling electrical box rated for light fixtures with one that is rated for fan support. Unfortunately, I can't seem to get the existing plastic box out with the usual methods. There are no visible screws inside of the box, and putting a 2x4 in there and whacking it with a hammer didn't dislodge it either. I was able to see that it was held in via two screws directly into a ceiling joist from the side of the box.

I don't want to go into the attic to unscrew the box from the joists, so what options do I have to remove this thing? I saw a suggestion online to use pliers and cut out pieces of the box until it's all out, but I don't want to start doing that then find out I still can't remove the box... and be stuck with no light and no fan.

The ceiling box looks similar to this, but it is not held in by nails, it is screwed in.

A similar electrical box

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  • What brand of fan do you want to install? Hunter have a bracket which would install using the box you have by using special screws which go into the joist. The box is not used to hold the fan but only the wires. The fan shroud is large enough to hide the box which is off center since the fan is then centered on the joist. Of course if this is not in the center of the room and that is important, the you would want to remove the box and install one on a bridging bar. – Jim Stewart Jul 21 '20 at 16:18
  • The fan is a Hampton bay one. Interesting, so Hunter have a bracket that supports the fan via the joist... thinking How do you install the bracket if you don't remove the existing box? – you786 Jul 21 '20 at 16:28
  • Have you read the instructions for your Hampton Bay fan? It might have the feature the Hunter does. I installed several Hunters in a relative's house and kept the existing light duty boxes in place. I followed the instructions to the letter. – Jim Stewart Jul 21 '20 at 16:35
  • The Hunter fan support bracket can be installed on the surface of the drywall or other ceiling directly under the joist. Special long (lag) screws go through the drywall and deep into the joist. The electrical junction box is offset from the axis of the fan and is not used to support the fan. The same Hunter bracket can be used with the fan rated boxes and in that case the long wood screws are not used. – Jim Stewart Jul 21 '20 at 16:55
  • I checked the manual and it specifically mentions that you can't use a non-fan-rated electrical box for installation, and it doesn't mention anything about using a direct connection to a joist. That seems like it would have been a lot easier, though! – you786 Jul 21 '20 at 18:24
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A picture of your box, instead of generic picture from the internet somewhere, will get you more specific help, but...

Without going into the attic for access from above or cutting open some drywall for access from below you're really stuck with one option: Cutting and/or breaking up the box to get it out of the ceiling.

If you cut, use extreme care:

  • Turn off power to the box before you start.
  • Be sure you do not cut into the wire insulation.

Once you've got the box out, see if you can get a 90° drill/driver adapter in there to get the screw removed. If not, you may need to cut the screws off flush or use locking pliers to slowly, very, very slowly get the screws backed out. If you don't they'll most likely end up in the way of the new box.

When you're done, make sure you install an old work fan support box. If you buy a new work box, you'll have to return it or cut from below or gain access from above to install this one.

I have removed boxes this way. I used an oscillating cutter to attack the box, being extremely careful around the wire entry points. When I got close to the wires, I used linesman's pliers to break out chunks of the box.

The worst part was that I'd just installed the boxes and drywalled and painted when we realized we needed 2-gang boxes instead of the 1-gang we'd just installed. :(

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  • Thanks! I've actually already bought the old work fan support box (with expanding beam support, which I might not need now that I found that the old box is directly connected to a joist). I should have taken a picture of the existing box but I put the light fixture back on already. How long do you think it would take to remove the existing box using just pliers? I don't have an oscillating cutter. – you786 Jul 21 '20 at 16:23
  • It took me probably 15 min or so to remove mine, @you786, and I cut a fair bit of it up. You could also use an old, beat up screwdriver or chisel to try to break the box loose from the mounting brackets are (on the outside). If you do that, you may be able to just break it there then pull the majority of the box out in one piece, dealing with the screws & brackets as secondary items. – FreeMan Jul 21 '20 at 16:27
  • I believe that you must use the support beam if the box comes with one. There are fan boxes which can mount to the side of a joist but have a different fastening mechanism. youtu.be/TqqC3IBusq4 – Jim Stewart Jul 21 '20 at 19:36
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    Thanks for the help FreeMan and @JimStewart. I actually ended up deciding not to cut out the box, but your comments and suggestions were really helpful! – you786 Jul 23 '20 at 15:22
  • Glad we could help @you786. Thanks for the check mark - it closes out the question so this doesn't keep getting bumped to the top of the pile every few months. – FreeMan Jul 23 '20 at 15:43

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